By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
The Meridian Star
It was one Christmas in the middle fifties. I got the idea that I wanted my father to have a deer rifle. To most deer hunters, this would not now seem unusual, but consider the times.
My dad and I had hunted deer together for years, and we only knew one man who hunted in East Mississippi with a rifle. He was James Flanagan. James had a Model 94 Winchester 30-30 and he actually killed deer with it. In those days we deer hunters used shotguns on the few deer we saw, all fleeing at top speed through the briar thickets ahead of hounds. We viewed James' 30-30 with both curiosity and envy.
So I boldly asked my mother if there was any way we could get together the money for a rifle for Daddy for Christmas. "How much would one cost?" asked Miss Bertha. I was ready with a quote from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Savage made a little bolt action 30-30 for just over forty dollars. We both knew that was a lot to spend for a gift, but I think she sensed how badly I wanted him to have a deer rifle. The first shotgun he had ever owned was his current deer gun. He was a rifle shooter at heart. She said she would start saving sewing money, but couldn't guarantee there would be enough.
I was excited the day she said I could order the rifle. I filled out the order form for the Savage Model 340 bolt action, making certain to write in "30-30" on the form, carefully choosing that caliber over the .22 Hornet, for which the 340 was also chambered.
At last the package arrived. When I unwrapped the box, I was shocked. There, before my eyes, was a shiny new Model 94 Winchester. "They sent the wrong rifle,"I told Mama. "This rifle costs sixty dollars!" I dreaded sending it back. The shiny, blue steel fairly glowed there in the box. And what boy of the ‘40 s and ‘50 s did not daydream about the rifle of every cowboy hero? But I knew that dreams and reality were two different things. And in those days, I could not visualize that I could ever own such a rifle, nor could we afford one for Daddy.
Then I read the shipping paper in the box. Sears Roebuck had sent the Winchester because they were out of the Model 340 Savage. The Winchester was a substitute for the Savage. There it was in black and white! As was their practice in those days, Sears shipped the next highest priced item of similar characteristics if they were out of the item ordered. Wow! Daddy would get the classic Winchester 94 lever action deer rifle.
When Daddy unwrapped the rifle on Christmas morning, he ran a finger along the dark blue barrel and the smooth walnut stock. I snapped a picture as he lifted the little Winchester to his shoulder and sighted. It was then I saw the tears running down the sides of his cheeks. I have never seen a Christmas gift more appreciated.
Daddy took the rifle to Kemper County with us that night. The very next day he climbed a pine tree, waited until dusk on a limb and shot his first buck with it. Mr. Shorty, as he was affectionately called, carried that rifle on every deer hunt for the rest of his hunting life.
When he got up in years, I tried to get him to let me mount a scope sight on it to assist his fading eyesight. He resisted when I would mention it. Finally, to get me off his case, he agreed to shoot my scoped rifle to see what a scope sight would do. Out in the country, I positioned a half dozen oil cans at about forty yards or so. While I was briefing him on the characteristics of my scope, he picked up his Winchester and knocked over the oil cans one at a time; without a rest! Then he looked me in the eye without saying a word. There was no more to be said. I picked up the cans and that was that.
The man could shoot a rifle. For someone whose hunting gun had always been an open sighted .22, a telescopic sight was overkill; an unnecessary luxury. He filed the semi-buckhorn rear sight on the Winchester flat, so it would be identical to the rear sight on his .22 rifle.
My brother, Ron, and I made many hunts over the years with my father and his Winchester. They were inseparable. When Mr. Shorty made his last hunt, the stock on the old 30-30 was void of finish and the bluing was worn from the barrel. They had grown old together. No Christmas gift was ever more used...or cherished.